Baird Makes Early Run Falls Late

By Associated PressAugust 14, 2004, 4:00 pm
04 PGA ChampionshipHAVEN, Wis. -- The galleries came to the double dogleg fifth hole at the PGA Championship hoping to see Tiger Woods make a run at another major. Instead they got Briny Baird.
The golfers came to Whistling Straits expecting a copy of Carnoustie. They, too, got something else entirely.
But surprise does not always equal disappointment - not with Baird and not with the golf course where he hopes to win his first PGA event. They are both quirky and well-pedigreed, if not well-known, and both are making a name for themselves this weekend.
It was moving day Saturday in the year's final major, and Baird moved more than most. Starting the day one stroke back, Baird reached the top of the leaderboard with a 34 on the front nine before a triple bogey on No. 17 left him at 5 under through 54 holes.
'I said, 'You can put yourself in position where they're going to have to come catch you,'' said Baird, who was tied for 11th and seven shots behind leader Vijay Singh. 'I'm a little (upset) - very (upset). But a lot of good stuff happened.'
Baird doesn't draw the galleries that trail Woods wherever he goes, and those that did follow the penultimate group off the tee for the third round were probably more interested in seeing Ernie Els, the winner of 14 tour events. Baird is a non-winner who would be a no-name if he didn't have the odd one that his mother plucked from the book, 'The Winds of War.'
Baird's father, Butch, was himself a pro who won twice on the PGA Tour, but the two broke off what limited contact they had when his father - already largely a stranger - didn't call or send a gift on his granddaughter's birth. It is ironic, if not downright Freudian, that Baird uses his bag to call attention to missing children.
But Baird has said that his talent came from his father, and he is talented. He was a teammate of David Duval at Georgia Tech before transferring to Valdosta State and winning back-to-back NCAA Division II titles.
But Baird has yet to win in 147 PGA tournaments, including last year's PGA Championship, when he sat in fifth place after three rounds before shooting an 81 on Sunday.
So Baird didn't bother to celebrate when he moved to the top of the leaderboard on Saturday. At the time, he was sideways between the fifth green and a pond when Singh, a group behind, bogeyed No. 4 to drop to 8 under; Baird couldn't sink a 10-footer for birdie but made par to remain at 9 under.
Baird improved to 10 under with a birdie on No. 6, but Singh, Els and Justin Leonard soon joined him and then passed him. Baird dropped a stroke with a bogey on the par-4 15th and fell off the leaderboard entirely with a triple bogey on No. 17.
Baird was on the tee when a cheer came up on the 16th green that may have caused him to drive into a bunker. He couldn't reach the green with his second shot and found himself hard against the railroad ties that keep the putting surface from falling into Lake Michigan.
He had to chip away from the pin to get a clear line, and then he three-putted from 80 feet for a 6.
'You can't hit it left,' he said disgustedly. 'You have all the way to the clubhouse on the right and you're probably going to make no worse than a four. 'I hit a bad shot.'
Els was having some trouble of his own.
He was within two strokes of the lead when he bogeyed the 15th to fall to 9 under. He dropped another stroke on the 18th and finished the day three behind Justin Leonard and tied for third with Phil Mickelson, Chris Riley, Stephen Ames and Darren Clarke.
But Els already has three majors on his resume to go with his 30 worldwide victories, and a smooth swing that earned him the nickname 'The Big Easy.'
No one would imitate Baird's motion.
When he addresses a ball on the tee, he appears to be getting his bearings, wiggling the club behind the ball and bringing the head back a foot where he pauses; just when you expect him to abort his backswing and begin again, he continues his stroke.
On the green, Baird is an even bigger oddity.
Holding his putter cross-handed - right hand up, left hand down - he stands with his left foot a pace ahead of his right as if he is going to walk past the putting line. It's a technique he picked up about four years ago when his coach tried to keep him from moving backward during his stroke.
'If you stand on one foot and your balance isn't perfect, you're obviously going to fall over, and I darned near fell over,' Baird explained this week. 'He said, 'Hit some putts on one foot for a while,' and that drill actually became reality after a while. ... I fought getting out of it, and finally just said, 'The heck with it, let's just putt that way.''
And that's why Baird would be the perfect golfer to take the title at a course as eccentric as he is.
With the wind whipping off the water and the course playing 7,514 yards - the longest ever in a major - the players feared par would be as distant as the far shore of Lake Michigan. Built on a former army base and designed by Pete Dye to resemble the links of Ireland and Scotland, the Straits Course, the players soon learned, isn't that at all.
It may look like a links, but it isn't one, really; the ground is too soft to allow the bump-and-run style favored on the British Isles. It is a tough but fair test of golf that is getting rave reviews from the players and could be in the rotation for years to come.
Sometimes you go looking for Royal Troon and you find Whistling Straits. Sometimes you go looking for Tiger or Phil and you find Briny Baird.
And that's OK, too.
Related Links:
  • Leaderboard - PGA Championship
  • Photo Gallery - Whistling Straits
  • Full Coverage - PGA Championship
  • Course Tour - Whistling Straits
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    Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open

    By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 4:00 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:

    The Monday morning headline will be …

    REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.

    RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.

    MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.

    JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.

    Who or what will be the biggest surprise?

    HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.

    LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.

    BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.

    COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.

    Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?

    HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.

    LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.

    BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.

    COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.

    What will be the winning score?

    HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.

    LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.

    BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.

    COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.

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    Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

    By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

    Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.

    Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.

    This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):

    While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:

    Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.

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    McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

    By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

    CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.

    Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.

    “It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”

    Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

    Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

    McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.

    “Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”

    He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.  

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    Height of irony: Phil putts in front of 'rules' sign

    By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 1:36 pm

    A picture is worth 1,000 words and potentially two strokes for playing a moving ball under Rule 14-5 but not Rule 1-2.

    Phil Mickelson has been having some fun during his Open prep at Carnoustie hitting flop shots over human beings, but the irony of this photo below is too obvious to go over anyone's head.

    Mickelson also tried tapping down fescue two weeks ago at The Greenbrier, incurring another two-shot penalty.

    And so we're left to wonder about what Phil asked himself back at Shinnecock Hills: "The real question is, ‘What am I going to do next?’”